We Rep [Ideas]

Annotation Explorations Pt/1 Futures Theatre

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Indications: Curious Markings
Toronto streets are a harsh patchwork of gashes, smooth fields and forgotten incisions – scar tissue. Asphalt surfaces buttressed against cement and slab, hardened aggregate sheets, crumbled, cracked and corroding. As we build a world-class city our urban grammar has become open surgery. Cranes and caterpillars. Nip and tuck. This is our pervasive construction aesthetic.

Look down anywhere and you will encounter a curious language – Pre-op markings gesturing critical information. These marks aren’t meant for us, they are meant to be ignored, passed over. The haphazard nature of their application, and the water-soluble formula of the spray paint suggest they are purely utilitarian, disposable guidelines. Noise.

Utility Location is a formal process to isolate and label underground public utility mains to deter or guide excavations. They temporarily reveal ‘undercover infrastructures,’ – The Guts – breathing habitable conditions into the built environment. The perpetual state of construction grants the ‘locates’ permanent residency.

Locators, as they are called, are required to provide sufficient information to anyone undertaking a ground disturbance to allow the ground disturber to complete his or her work safely and in compliance with the governing regulations. ‘Identify and Mark’ is an evolving practice of telling visual cautionary tales.

‘Indication’ through the language of engineerial annotation, whether spray-paint, stakes or [ ________ ] goes beyond utility location and is often used to map near future plans directly atop the physical environment. Simple analogue augments where plans are imposed on a 1:1 scale, staking out dimensions and relationships to carefully weave new builds into the civic network of forms and amenities.

Locators play the role of interface between Past, Current & Future states of the city.
Markings are suggestive of both the archive and the plan, an interstitial state between diagram and building. Color-Coding is the common language understood as a shared system to decipher between utilities. Blue lines: Hydro. Yellow: Gas. Red: Electric and so on. There are deviations. Weird colors to indicate bespoke utilities or – facilities – as they are sometimes called, typically there is a continuity that you can observe throughout the widespread repetition of this ‘civic pattern.’
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Intervention: Speculative Street Fiction
Why is this important? Markings are a common condition that inform, and become, the ‘nature’ of our city. These marks may indirectly serve as cover, visual noise to shield the ‘intervener’ who wishes to use this language, its semantics and its rituals of application as a forum to ‘edit’ the city.

Situating of Ideas within design and engineering worlds often occurs once designs are complete, in the installation process. Seldom are plans ‘wild,’ in a raw form outside of a wiki, pilot or town hall. Today, participatory design and crowdsourcing are common terms, and exhibit many manifestations in facilitating change in community oriented programs. It is often used in cases of strategic visioning and comprehensive planning where public consultation is required to gauge approval and cultural fit. There are patterns in these processes we consider relevant: First is the creation of means to organize and freely communicate to discuss issues. In addition, the general access to platforms and enabling tools for personal or group ‘authorship.’ Second is the value that emerges though discussion, the discovery of desire paths, early warning signs and motivational structures of people.

There are defining characteristics from illicit vending, street performance, infiltration and graffiti that might inspire and inform the public negotiation of public spaces. How might the qualities of the ‘unofficial,’ ‘unsanctioned’ even speculative practices interface with the sketch-like engineering qualities that are exhibited in utility location markings? Encouraging – Disposability. The Gesture. Non-chalante proposals of the unbuilt environment.

Architects are known to stake out a plan, and walk through enacting the program with the client. Appealing to the imagination by showcasing triggers to scales, positions and perspectives. How might we extend the utility language to include new types of markings to form spatial critique and creation? Ideally moving toward a practice of sketching fictional settings.
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Improvisation: Futures Theatre
Jane Jacobs framed sidewalks as the information architecture of the city. Their scale affords intimate vantages, speeds and durations within cultural textures. There is an opportunity to consider the street as ‘Whenware’ to pre-enact situations in order to enter and access mechanics of experience and tool with the possibilities. We suggest Pre-enactments as a performative tool to move quickly through – many versions of exploratory scenarios or ‘plays’ to momentarily occupy a myriad of alternative futures.

Like a scene taken from Dogville, engineerial diagrams place you in the story, spatial triggers to imagine within. Settings, props – people, places and things assemble an actor network – from which we will draw upon to sketch fictional public systems. Developing a language at the intersection of utility location markings, architectural plans and interaction modeling. It is on these ‘stages’ where we hope to casually perform, debate and discuss versions of plausible and/or odd near future sequences, scenes and situations. Authoring the future is a social activity, made vivid by the informed perspectives and imaginations that share in actively conjuring how the future might ‘play out.‘

‘Suggestive marking as intervention’ within the lanscape of inherited infrastructures suggests a shift in power. How might the street become a stage for a new mixture of sketch annotation and diagrammatic storytelling as ways of situating, visualizing and occupying ‘possible places?’ It is not intended to create interference patterns to distort and confuse, but to create ‘Inscriptions of civic value,’ intended to make people think differently about public expressions in relation to infrastructures we inherit as opposed to the infrastructures we should inherit. We intend to create curious breaks in the overall local rhythm – temporary autonomous zones’- to impose public attractors to Open Urbanism, Situated Foresight, Civic Gaming, that is, the city would be non-destructively mutable and dialogical rather than a ‘background.’

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Written by rthomas

July 14, 2011 at 6:26 am

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